What is Joy?
2022 Summer Reading Recommendations
Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life, by C.S. Lewis
Joy—What is it? Is it different from happiness, contentment, or pleasure? C.S. Lewis proposes in his autobiography a very particular definition of “Joy” that sets it apart from the others. For Lewis, Joy is an insatiable desire that comes unexpectedly and wounds the heart: something akin to Saint Augustine’s restlessness. Joy can feel much like sorrow, except that those who have tasted Joy will want, more than anything, to be struck by it again. Lewis writes Surprised by Joy in his fifties. He covers his life from childhood to his conversion in his early thirties, and Joy—Joy in his strict sense—is the pervading theme, the golden thread that connects the whole story.
He describes in comic detail characters such as Oldie, Smugy (pronounced “Smewgy”), and Fribble, whose personalities are nearly as interesting as their nicknames. He writes at length about his tutor Mr. Kirkpatrick, dubbed The Great Knock, who was “almost wholly logical” and helped prepare Lewis for the academic career he would eventually pursue. Lewis recalls that, though Kirk was an atheist, he always gardened in his best suit on Sundays. Musing on this oddity, Lewis opines, “An Ulster Scot may come to disbelieve in God, but not to wear his week-day clothes on the Sabbath.” Religious or not, Kirk is the only person for whom an entire chapter is named, and Lewis recognizes how much he owes to this bizarre educator.
Books feature prominently in this autobiography. After all, Lewis was a literature professor by trade and, as we see quickly, a bibliophile by nature. From childhood, good reading was one of the triggers that elicited Joy. He recalls vividly one October evening when he went to Leatherhead to get a haircut and buy a book. He bought Phantasies, a faerie Romance by George MacDonald, and, according to his own testimony, that book irreversibly affected his life. It caused a stab of Joy like none he had felt before, and it helped spur his conversion.
Later, describing the period when Christianity seemed to be invading his world on all sides, Lewis explains how he thought of Christ as the “transcendental Interferer” and expresses the dismay he felt when he realized that so many authors he revered—Plato, Dante, MacDonald, Herbert, Barfield, Tolkien, and Dyson—were urging him toward Christianity. He warns, “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.” As we have seen, even fairytales point to God.
Good friendships point to God too. A neighbor Lewis did not know well, Arthur, was sick when Lewis came to visit him and noticed on his nightstand a book that he cherished dearly. He describes the wonderful discovery of their mutual interest saying, “Next moment the book was in our hands, our heads were bent close together, we were pointing, quoting, talking—soon almost shouting—discovering in a torrent of questions that we liked not only the same thing, but the same parts of it and in the same way; that both knew the stab of Joy.” It turns out that Joy is not only a pointer to some Other, but it also unites those who have suffered its blows.
For anyone who has enjoyed Lewis’s fiction or apologetic writings, I heartily recommend that you allow this master storyteller to tell you his own story. Unsurprisingly, he tells it with all the same wit, perceptiveness, and clarity that characterize his other books. For anyone who has felt Joy, like the young Lewis and Arthur, consider reading Surprised by Joy and hearing firsthand how this deep yearning drew “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” to Christ.
Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash
Originally posted in the Dominicana Journal.
Surprised by Playfulness
Saint Dominic was an austere man. He traveled barefoot, slept on the hard ground, and often fasted on bread and water. This self-denial gave St. Dominic credibility among the townspeople of his time, who were disillusioned with the decadence of the clergy and attracted to the severity of the Waldensian and Cathar heretics. Given his austerity, one might assume that St. Dominic was sour-faced and unpleasant to be around. But this could not be further from the truth!
A contemporary biographer, Blessed Cecilia Cesarini, recounts that St. Dominic “was always joyous and cheerful, except when moved to compassion at anyone’s sorrows” (Lives of the Brethren, 3.14). Another biographer, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, recalls that St. Dominic’s “cheerfulness is what enabled him so easily to win everyone’s affection,” and that “none was more affable, none more pleasant to his brethren or associates” (Libellus, 104).
One evening, when St. Dominic was preaching to a group of Dominican nuns in Rome, Satan himself interrupted the sermon. Having taken on the bodily appearance of a sparrow, the devil fluttered around the church and hopped on the nuns’ heads to distract them. Sensing that his audience’s attention was wandering, how did St. Dominic react? Not with anger or alarm, but with playfulness!
After asking a nun to catch the devil-sparrow, St. Dominic received it from her, identified it as the devil, and (no doubt with a mischievous grin) began to dramatically pluck its feathers, evoking much laughter from the friars and nuns present. Then, to the delight of his audience, St. Dominic took the devil-bird and chucked it out the window, calling theatrically after it: “Fly now if you can, enemy of mankind!” The chuckling nuns then listened once more to the sermon, their attention restored by what Bl. Cecilia called the “laughter-stirring miracle” (Lives of the Brethren, 3.10).
As the devil-sparrow incident illustrates, St. Dominic was a playful man. This playfulness made St. Dominic an effective preacher. He instinctively mastered Cicero’s maxim that “when the audience is weary, it will be useful for the speaker to try something novel or amusing” (quoted in ST II-II q. 168, a. 2, ad 1).
Likewise, St. Dominic’s playfulness brought useful refreshment to his fellow religious. Play and mirth relieve the mental weariness that accompanies the mind’s focus on higher things, refreshing the interior senses so they can be used again in prayer or study (ST II-II q. 168, a. 2). This refreshment is especially necessary for people who hope to persevere in sustained contemplative work—people like friars and nuns.
How weary must the friars and nuns have been on the evening of the “laughter-stirring miracle”! Tired from their studies and prayers, disturbed by seeing the devil-sparrow, perhaps grumbling that the Franciscans probably had better pest control, how many discouraging thoughts must have crossed their mind—until St. Dominic moved them to laughter!
Compare this liberating refreshment with the stifling effect of a boorish man on others. The boorish man, who offers no playful speech to others and actively hinders others from being moderately playful themselves, is burdensome to everyone he spends time with (ST II-II q. 168, a. 4).
Like the Waldensians and Cathars of St. Dominic’s time, boors might offer a “greater outward show of piety” (Lives of the Brethren, 5.12), but they make for impatient teachers and community members, unable to bear or relieve the weariness of their hearers and brethren. In contrast, as St. Dominic shows us, true austerity is compatible with playfulness (ST II-II q. 168, a. 4, ad 3). One goes hand in hand with the other.
Amid widespread clerical scandal in our time, we certainly ought to ask St. Dominic to teach us austerity—to help us pluck our hearts clean of sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust. Perhaps less obviously, in an age of distracting tweets and bitter moralism, we also ought to ask St. Dominic to teach us playfulness, so that we might seize the attention of scattered minds and refresh our weary brethren.
Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)
Originally posted in the Dominicana Journal
Soulful Songs for Sunny Days
Summer is now roughly half way through. We’ve celebrated the Fourth of July. We’ve likely enjoyed our day at the beach or our family vacation. Students can feel the last weeks before school slipping through their fingers, and, although the season and the heat will linger nearly until September ends, we have now entered a quieter, more reflective period of our summer. It is in the spirit of a quiet summer evening that I offer this musical recommendation.
Though it’s been over a decade since the release of Jon Foreman’s EP Summer (an EP or “extended play” is a musical release that is shorter than a full album), his songwriting has lost none of its poignancy and depth. This six-song EP is part of a larger four-EP project, with an EP dedicated to each of the seasons. The other EPs are also filled with gems, especially Fall which was released first, but I offer Summer for your consideration because I think Foreman admirably captures both the energy and the peace of a summer evening.
The EP opens with “A Mirror Is Harder to Hold,” the pleadings of a lover who has looked in the mirror and come face to face with hard truths about himself. He’s been full of himself. He’d much rather hold his beloved than this image of himself. The songwriting is excellent, and the subdued mariachi-style horns and soft backing vocals draw the piece together with a wry sad smile.
The following song, “Resurrect Me,” is a rollicking acoustic jam that demands new life from God. It features some slide guitar work that recalls George Harrison’s sitar playing on The Beatles’ Revolver album—it’s impossible not to start bobbing along. And the chorus contains a plea that we all surely cry out with the same insistence at different points in our lives: “I’ve become an empty shell / of a man I don’t like so well / I am a living breathing hell / Come on and resurrect me!”
In “Deep In Your Eyes (There is a River),” Foreman suggests that the drive for ultimate fulfillment in God can be seen in all of the people we meet—even when they themselves have not yet fully realized it. Musically it is a lovely piece, with a nice cello accompaniment, although it features neither the lyrical sharpness of the first two tracks nor the unique use of Scripture found on the final three songs on the EP.
The fourth track, “Instead of a Show,” is a bit aggressive. It’s a send up of a comfortable Christianity that can be quite common in contemporary America. Listening to it, the song could almost sound like it came from a radical critic of the Church and we might feel offended. But almost the entire song is lifted directly from Sacred Scripture. The bulk comes from the prophet Amos’s condemnation of a corrupt Israel’s worship (Amos 5:21-24). The second verse, while not a verbatim quotation of Scripture, is clearly inspired by Isaiah 1:15, which condemns the kingdom of Judah for the same behavior. The blow is softened ever so slightly in the bridge by the suggestion from Isaiah 1:18 that healing and forgiveness are indeed possible, but the call for repentance and justice remains.
The fifth track is a simple rendition of a familiar passage. It is noteworthy for the way in which it captures the feeling of peace found both in that passage and in a late summer afternoon. Although the lyrics are the well-worn words of Psalm 23, Foreman’s emphasis is not on the “fields” or “valley” of our earthly journey, but rather our destination: “The House of God Forever.”
The sixth track, “Again,” makes use of instrumentation from the Far East and is yet another beautiful prayer. I only realized that it was pulled from 1 Kings 18:36-37 after enjoying the song for several years—suddenly Elijah’s prayer for fire from heaven sounded strangely familiar! What is most striking about Foreman’s song is his expansion on the “this day” of Elijah’s prayer. In his hands, “today” is unfolded into a reflection on God’s providential presence and activity. He is “God of the present tense” and “Father of history . . . present in our human events.” And, as Foreman rightly intuits, God and none other is capable of touching and “turning our hearts back” to him.
I hope that you will enjoy this short ode to Summer by a truly exceptional artist. The EP can nourish the reflections in your heart on these peaceful summer evenings, as we await the more lasting peace of heaven.
Originally posted on Dominicana Journal on August 5, 2022.
On the Threshold of Heaven in Hawthorne
It is an uncomfortable yet fundamental fact that death stands at the center of Christian life. Because of Adam’s sin, we die. Because of Christ’s death, we can live forever. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Rev 14:13). The question then follows: what are we to do now to be made blessed among men at the hour of our death?
A recent summer assignment with the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne testified profoundly to the perennial Christian answer: we are to love, as we have first been loved. Founded in 1900 by Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, the daughter of American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Sisters dedicate their entire lives to caring for those who are indigent and ill with terminal cancer. They pursue a life of consecrated holiness—attending Mass, chanting the Divine Office, fulfilling convent duties—and spend the remainder of their days ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of their residents, who live in a large wing attached to the convent.
One might imagine working with those who have been dealt a certain death sentence to be a macabre experience. But the light of faith and the fire of love—which pervade Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne, NY—instruct and impel us otherwise. The fact of the matter, oblivious though many of us be, is that we all have been dealt a certain death sentence from the moment of our conception. The human mortality rate is 100%. The charge of the Sisters, then, is to assist those whose sentence has been rendered specific and imminent: “you will die by cancer, and it will be soon,” their residents have been told. The Sisters’ vocation is thus a continual memento mori, which, because of their life in the Resurrection, is also a memento vivere (i.e. “remember [that you have] to live”): “if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8).
For all of the physical afflictions endured by the residents at Rosary Hill, the greatest drama occurs within. Each resident must make the personal, affirmative choice to prepare him or herself for death. This always entails what is, for many, the most difficult step: admitting—usually after an odyssey of treatments and facility transfers, not to mention an often turbulent life before the diagnosis—that this really is my last stop before I meet the Lord, and it is in fact a great stop en route to an even better destination.
Assisting the residents along their via crucis are the Sisters, who act on the pattern of Veronica, the Holy Women of Jerusalem, Mary Magdalene, and of course, the Mother of God, whose name every Sister receives as part of her religious name. The deep beauty of the Sister-resident dynamic is the mutual surrender that lies at its core. On the one hand, each Sister strives to surrender daily—to die to her weakness and offer her poor, chaste, and obedient love to the Lord, and to his beloved ones in the ward. For the Sisters, this surrender is never imposed but rather desired; these women sought out and continue to seek this sacrifice and the unique intimacy with the Lord that it yields.
The surrender of the residents is different, for it comes by way of their response to an imposition. The residents are poor in health and funds, chaste by circumstance, and helplessly obedient to their mortal nature. They did not ask for the evangelical counsels, yet they have in a manner received them—albeit as a hard yoke and heavy burden. God, however, refuses to abandon them to such a fate: day after day, his merciful love flows through the labors of the Sisters and their staff—from the perpetual patient care to the scratch-off lottery prizes at Bingo, from simple human conversations to the liturgies and Eucharistic processions. Residents, in choosing to receive this love, find their once stony hearts enfleshed, and typically in the precise measure that their mortal flesh fades. They become meek and humble, and the yoke of the counsels becomes voluntary—and so easy and light. Baptism or Confession is often sought, and the soul is sustained thereafter by holy oil and heavenly bread.
In this mutual effort of sanctification—Sister ministering to resident, and resident purifying Sister—the pangs of the present age still perdure: the sacraments do not relieve pain, end suffering, or make family strife and past wounds vanish into thin air. But the sacraments in fact do more—much more. They reroute an entire life toward a heavenly horizon, redeeming all that came before Rosary Hill and super-naturalizing all that happens therein. This in turn effects an astounding peace in the midst of trial, which is the surest proof that “beating cancer” is principally a spiritual war fought on a bodily battleground, for “it is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is of no avail” (Jn 6:63).
An arresting vocation video recently released by the Sisters asks the question, “if death is at the end of it all, why try?” Because even—indeed, especially—at death’s door, we are loved by an eternal love made cruciform, which “deep waters cannot quench” (Sgs 8:7) nor death sting (1 Cor 15:55). On this truth hangs the Sisters’ whole reason for being, which one Sister expresses in the same video: “I hope that in those last moments, they can know that they are loved.”
Only acts of love—of God’s own unquenchable divine love—can convince someone that he is loved, yes, thirsted for by the crucified Christ. Everything at Rosary Hill boils down to this. So that when the last breath comes, and now becomes the hour of death, each resident might make Christ’s last words his own: “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit,” and so hear in reply: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Image: Screenshot from “Hawthorne Dominicans Vocation Video” (used with permission)
Originally posted on Dominicana Journal on August 2, 2022.
My Grace is Sufficient for You
“All of this is because a fisherman died here,” said my then friend, now fellow Dominican Brother, as we stood atop St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is true. The fisherman from Galilee, buried 450 feet below us, was certainly not wise by human standards, powerful, nor well born. (1 Cor 1:26). He was not preserved from serious sins like Mary, John the Baptist, or John the Evangelist. This was the disciple who denied Our Lord three times (Luke 22:54–61). Nonetheless, our Lord still called Simon son of Jonah. He built his Church on him and gave him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 16:17–18). He told him to feed his sheep and foretold his martyrdom on the Vatican hill (John 21:15–19). This calling and the grace our Lord gave to this weak fisherman turned him into a strong fisher of men, and shepherd of souls.
From the top of St. Peter’s we could also see another massive basilica down the Tiber. This one does not house the bones of a fisherman. Rather, it is built over the tomb of a radical first century pharisee (Phil 3:4–6). A man not even fit to be called an apostle because he persecuted the Church of God (1 Cor 15:9). A man who consented to the execution of St. Stephen (Acts 8:1) and tried to destroy the Church (Gal 1:13). Yet this man, this sinner, was chosen by God’s grace. This man was struck down on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–9), and encountered the Risen Lord (Gal 1:12). These two men, one uneducated and ordinary (Acts 4:13), and the other an enemy of God (Rom 5:10), were reconciled to God! They became Peter, the rock on which the Church is built (Matt 16:17) and Paul, God’s chosen instrument (Acts 9:15).
These two sinners-turned-saints are useless on their own. Peter is not the rock of his own Church; he is the rock on which Christ builds his Church. So too Paul, as a chosen instrument of grace, is nothing without someone to use the instrument, namely Christ. These two men remind us that without God we can do nothing (John 15:5). For these men are apostles only because Jesus is “the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb 3:1). They are bishops and shepherds only because Jesus is “the shepherd and bishop of our souls” (1 Pet 2:25).
Despite their sins, despite their mediocrity, God did amazing things with these two men. God made them like Jesus. God used their suffering to “fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church”(Col 1:24). He made them a spectacle to the world, being hungry and thirsty, naked, roughly treated, homeless, and toiling (1 Cor 4:11–12). He made them like Jesus who had nowhere to rest his head (Matt 8:20). God took these men and conformed them to Jesus Christ, using them to bring his gospel to the ends of the earth (Ps 19:4). This conformity to Jesus went deep; he even gave Paul his marks on his body (Gal 6:17).
In the end this transformation, begun on the beach in Galilee and on the road to Damascus, ended in Rome. Peter was so configured to the cross of Christ, that he, like the savior, was crucified. So too Paul was executed in the same city by beheading. However, their martyrdom was not merely the result of their work in the Lord’s vineyard. The grace of final perseverance was a gift, but it was not only a gift for these blessed Apostles. This final grace given to Peter and Paul extends to you and me! The same grace God used to save them, he now uses through them to save us. So that just as their voices went out through all the world in their earthly life, their prayers in heaven now bring us the graces of Jesus Christ!
Tomorrow the Church celebrates the principal feast of these heavenly patrons. Let us turn to them as our fathers and sources of Sacred Scripture and the Tradition of the Church. But more than that, let us turn to them because they are reigning in heaven! The rock still supports the Church, and the chosen instrument still intercedes for men.
Originally posted on Dominicana Journal on June 28, 2022
Offering it up for Others
“Offer it up” is a phrase well-known to Catholics both young and old. It is a phrase that we often use to satirize stern teaching-sisters and good Catholic mothers alike. But, despite its worn familiarity, it is a phrase that has not yet lost its use! In Spe salvi Pope Benedict XVI said that “offering it up” is a way that “even the small inconveniences of daily life could acquire meaning and contribute to the economy of good and of human love” (Spe salvi, 40). Furthermore, he suggested that “maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice.” Especially during this month dedicated to the remembrance of the deceased, we can make an effort to offer up our suffering on behalf of those souls in Purgatory.
The reality of human suffering in a world ruled by “a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity” (Exod 34:6) is a profound mystery. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that God’s allowance of suffering is part of God’s infinite goodness so that out of that suffering he can produce immense good (ST I, q. 2, a. 3). From blind beggars and sick servants to the crucifixion of Christ, the Gospel is filled with examples of Jesus transforming sickness and suffering into prosperity and joy. This transformation is also possible in our lives. When we realize that God permitting our suffering is a part of his goodness, we are able to sanctify it by “offering it up” to God.
When faced with suffering, we can do one of two things. We can reject that our pain has any meaning or purpose, or we can offer up our daily struggles. By offering it up, we accept our suffering and acknowledge that God can bring good out of it. Our suffering can open the door to our sanctification. When we offer up these moments, we hand them over to God, and he transforms them into acts of love. “Offering it up” can be as simple as praying:
Dear Lord, I offer you my suffering today
For the conversion of sinners,
For the forgiveness of sins, and
For the salvation of souls. Amen.
All suffering, from mild discomfort to profound miseries, can be offered to God. When I was a child, my parents told me to “offer up” small paper cuts, childhood disappointments, lack of desserts, and other seemingly inconsequential discomforts. Even with small struggles like these, God can produce substantial good because, in them, we find an opportunity to unite ourselves to Christ’s suffering. By accepting our suffering, we take up our crosses, where “Christ’s sufferings overflow to us” (2 Cor 1:5). By handing over our suffering to Christ, we join ourselves to the suffering he endured for us, “sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death” (Phil 3:10). It is by joining ourselves to Christ’s suffering that we can make expiation for our own sins and more perfectly conform ourselves to God’s will.
In addition to being sanctified ourselves, we can offer our suffering for the sanctification of others—especially for those in Purgatory. The souls in Purgatory cannot help themselves; they rely on our prayers for relief. (ST II-II, q. 83, a. 11) We can and should always pray for them. By turning to prayer during moments of suffering, joining ourselves to Christ’s cross, and offering our sufferings for the souls in Purgatory, we can say with St. Paul, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).
Image: Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. (used with permission)
Originally posted on Dominicana Journal
She Who Received
Addressing the Father, Saint Catherine of Siena said in her Dialogue, “I am she who is not. . . . You alone are he who is; my being and every other grace that you have given me beyond my being I have from you, which you gave and give to me through love, and not because it was owed to me” (Ch. 134; cf. Exod 3:14). Since only God exists by his own power and because everything else exists only because he created, Catherine recognized that everything she was and had came from God. To sin—to turn away from God and towards oneself—would be to turn toward nothingness.
What we are apart from God is an abyss of nothingness. The more we retreat from God to follow our own whims and desires, the lesser and lesser we become. God owes us nothing; everything he gives he gives out of love. If someone wants to be or become anything, she must totally deny herself—she must become she who is not—in order to cling entirely to God: he who is. She must make herself completely dependent on his love.
No one recognized this more than the Immaculate Virgin Mary, whom God joined to himself from the instant she was conceived in the womb. Her Immaculate Conception might have been fitting, but God did not owe her anything. Nor was it absolutely necessary for him to do this in order to redeem the human race. What he did for her he did out of sheer love. He did it out of love for her, whom he loved above all creatures. He did it out of love for himself since, aside from Christ’s human nature, Mary glorified him more than any other creature (Luke 1:46). He did it out of love for us, her children.
For Eve was the mother of all the living who later die and turn to nothingness (Gen 3:20). At her instigation, our first parents sinned when they tried to be something apart from God. From them, we inherited original sin. But Mary, the new Eve, became the Mother of all who live by grace (Rev 12:17). She emptied herself of her will and accepted the will of God announced by the angel (Luke 1:38). Her soul “magnified the Lord,” who, she said, had favored her “lowliness.” For it was he who “scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts” and “cast down the mighty from their thrones” in order to “lift up the lowly”—those who count themselves nothing before God (Luke 1:46–55). It was Mary who instigated her Son to begin his ministry when she commanded the servants at Cana to be obedient to Jesus, to be nothing before her Son, he who is (John 2:5). Just as the first Adam had done when—after he first turned the human race away from its Creator—he named the first Eve “Mother of all the Living,” so the new Adam—once he turned the human race back to the Father—named the new Eve our Mother when he gave her to his beloved disciple (John 19:25–27). All of us who turn, not toward ourselves and to nothingness but to he who is (cf. John 18:6), are her children.
But the foundation for Mary’s Motherhood began with the grace God gave her at her conception. This was what the angel acknowledged first: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). She received the human nature that God first gave to Adam and Eve, but not original sin. Through her Immaculate Conception, God gave Mary grace to receive everything from him and from him alone. By giving her this grace, he prepared her to receive he who is. By his power alone, she would receive everything that she was. By his power alone, Mary would later conceive he who is in her womb. By his power, she who is not would hold he who is in her arms.
Image: Image: Carlo dell’Orto, La Presentazione di Maria al Tempio (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Originally posted on Dominicana Journal
So Much Time and So Little to Do
We always seem to be busy with so little time and so much to do. There always seems to be a list of tasks a mile long. Tasks get added to that list faster than we can complete them. Many of these tasks became impossible during the height of COVID. Locked down with nowhere to go and no one to see, some of us had free time for the first time since we were children.
As restrictions from the pandemic have loosened we may be thinking, “What a relief to be busy again!” We no longer have to figure out what to do when there is nothing that needs to be done. We have all our responsibilities back, responsibilities we’d missed because they were what gave structure and meaning to our lives. This is what the lives of adult, productive members of society are expected to look like, but the pandemic made us ask, “What do I do with my time when there’s nothing more to produce and all my responsibilities have been met?
The pandemic may have brought this question to the forefront, but it is the same question that parents have to ask once their children leave home, that the aging have to ask as they retire from work. What do we do with the time when we aren’t working? The question can, of course, be asked earlier. It can even be asked now. In fact, as Christians, the commandment to keep holy the Sabbath compels us to ask this question every week. How do I rest on Sunday? How we approach Sunday can then serve as a paradigm for how we approach other situations where we find ourselves with time on our hands.
Sunday is meant to be a day of rest, a day of leisure. It’s a day when we spend our time doing things other than work. The worship of God is an obvious feature. Sunday should be a time when we pray, especially at Mass. While spending time with God is the most important way of resting on Sunday, it is not the only way. Leisure time can be spent enjoying the company of friends and family. This happens at church, but also Sunday dinner or visits to grandparents. These can be occasions for conversations wherein we all become philosophers, asking the deep questions of life while unpressed for time. We can think about who we are and stop long enough to recognize God’s grace in our lives. These activities show that resting on Sunday and enjoying leisure consist in far more than the absence of labor. These are the times wherein the bare necessities of survival have been met and the full flourishing of human life is expressed. For an extended discussion on what constitutes leisure, I highly recommend Josef Pieper’s, Leisure: The Basis of Culture.
Learning to enjoy leisure helps us flourish as wayfarers, but it also prepares us for eternity. As we allow the rest of Sunday to penetrate more of our lives, we prepare for eternal life when that rest will be our whole life. We will have no responsibilities in heaven. The worries and anxieties of Martha will no longer press upon us (Lk 10:38-42). Every need will be satisfied. Heaven will be all leisure. Alongside Mary, we will sit at the feet of Jesus. There will be only one thing necessary: to join all the saints and angels in worshipping and praising God. We will have so much time and so much to do!
Image: Ivan Aivazovsky, Chumaks Leisure
Originally posted on Dominicana Journal
At a convent of the Missionaries of Charity, my mother once made twelve bags of food to give to the homeless. She and the sisters then went to one of their usual spots in my hometown to hand out the bags of food, where there were never more than twelve people. However, upon arrival my mother discovered that there were, not twelve, but thirty-six homeless. Panicking, she told one of the sisters that they should go to another spot because there would not be enough bags of food for the crowd. The sister replied that my mother should start praying the Memorare prayer. So the sisters and my mother gathered the homeless together, prayed with them, and my mother proceeded to hand out the bags of food. When the last bag was handed out, everyone had a bag in their hands.
This happened when I was a child, and because of it, the Gospel story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand has always struck a special cord in my heart. This story also seems to have hit a special cord with the Gospel writers as well, given that it is the only miracle that is recounted in all four Gospels (Matt 14:13-21, Mark 6:34-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6: 1-14).
The evangelists knew the significance of this miracle story not only because the miracle itself shows the powerful and providential care of Jesus for his people, but also because of what Jesus is pointing towards in this miracle. This miracle points us to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, where Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary is presented and where Jesus gives his Body and Blood to the Church as the healing food for our souls. In fact, the Book of Revelation even shows us that the same liturgy we celebrate in the Mass on earth is celebrated in Heaven. Each Mass, we should call to mind the communion of saints and angels all around us.
This all came together in the most beautiful way during one of my summer visits home. I was at mass right next to my mother. I watched as a packed congregation on a Saturday noon mass came up for communion. I couldn’t help but see us in the same light as the five thousand whom our Lord looked on with pity. Just as the five thousand were hungry for food, we were spiritually hungry for our Lord. As the apostles stood in the place of Jesus when they brought food to the five thousand, so the elderly priest stood in persona Christi as he slowly distributed the Eucharist from person to person along the communion rail.
Studying to be a priest of Jesus Christ, I can now see how, by reflecting on my mother’s miracle story, Jesus was using that event to point me to something higher. God will always look with pity on his children and will always provide priests of Jesus Christ to offer up the eternal sacrifice of Jesus for the sanctification of souls. Let us remember that every time we come to mass, we are entering into the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins and pray for a renewed spiritual hunger for Jesus in the Eucharist. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.
Originally posted on Dominicana Journal
God is Not Far From Us
Pause for a minute and consider God.
Where does your mind take you?
I think for most of us the mind goes outward. We imagine God somewhere way out there beyond the stars and outer limits of the cosmos. From his seat faraway, he admires all he has made, and if we’re lucky, he might even look upon one of us with his favor.
This perspective is problematic.
First, God does not have a body; he is therefore not “in a place” or “far away.” “Where” is he then? Everywhere. Saint Paul teaches, “He is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27b-28a). I am because God is. Those things that are deepest in me—my life, my ability to will this or that, my very existence—are caused at all times and in all places by God’s innermost presence (cf. Thomas Aquinas, ST I, q. 8, a. 1). The hand holding a cup of coffee four feet from the ground is like God holding me in being. His “right hand holds me fast” (Ps 63:9 Grail), and he does not let go. “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Ps 139:7-8). Wherever I am, there God is. Reason alone can even lead us to this awesome conclusion.
Beyond reason’s ambit, however, there lies a yet more profound truth about God’s nearness to the human soul. The Son reveals this truth: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). The Son reveals that God is a communion of Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who dwell together in perfect unity (cf. John 10:30). The Son reveals that God has invited us to share in this communion. The Son reveals that our sharing in this communion is made possible by God dwelling in our souls. When the soul is in a state of grace, God is inwardly present not only as sustainer and mover, but as light and fire making us capable of divine knowledge and love (Thomas Aquinas, ST I, q. 43., a. 3). The Father sends his Son, “the light of men” (John 1:4), to illuminate our minds with the truth of God. The Father and the Son send the Holy Spirit to enflame our hearts with the love of God (Rom 5:5; cf. John 14:16). And where the Son and the Spirit are, there too is the Father. The body becomes a temple for the Triune God (1 Cor 6:19).
It is not altogether wrong for the mind to go outward in contemplating God. God is wholly other. An infinite gap separates the Creator and the creature. My existence (the entire world’s existence!) is not necessary. God, on the other hand, is his own existence and he necessarily is: “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). But precisely because of God’s supreme transcendence, he is most inwardly in all that is. The Christian at prayer contemplates a truth yet more marvelous. Gazing inwardly not to consider himself but to consider God, he might pray,
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to forget myself entirely that I may be established in you as still and as peaceful as if my soul were already in eternity.
May nothing trouble my peace or make me leave You, O my Unchanging One, but may each minute carry me further into the depths of Your Mystery.
Give peace to my soul; make it Your Heaven, Your beloved dwelling and Your resting place. May I never leave You there alone but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring, and wholly surrendered to Your creative Action(Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, Prayer to the Holy Trinity).
Originally posted on Dominicana Journal